NFL Nation: Anthony McCoy

Vernon Davis took no snaps on the perimeter and just one from the slot during San Francisco 49ers practice Tuesday.

Davis
The subject is of interest after Davis, a career tight end, suggested he would be working with wide receivers. The truth is that Davis will remain a tight end even if he does line up in the slot or outside the numbers a little more frequently.

Davis has averaged 19.0 yards per reception, tops among tight ends over the past two regular seasons and playoffs, when lined up in the slot or outside the yard-line numbers, according to Doug Clawson of ESPN Stats & Information. He has six touchdowns on these plays, including four during the playoffs after the 2011 regular season. He caught seven passes on seven targets for 259 yards on those plays.

For perspective, I've put together a chart showing 2012 regular-season reception totals for prominent NFC West tight ends, broken down by whether the player lined up wide, in the slot or as an inline tight end.

Jared Cook, formerly of the Tennessee Titans and now with the St. Louis Rams, caught a high percentage of passes from the slot. These tight ends caught very few of their passes after lining up as wide receivers outside the yard-line numbers. I don't think Davis is going to suddenly start operating from that area regularly. Doing so would essentially remove him from the running game while making it tougher for him to motion into the formation.

Percy Harvin and Tavon AustinGetty ImagesSeeing Tavon Austin (right) go the the Rams at No. 8 validated Seattle's trade for Percy Harvin.

RENTON, Wash. -- The more the Seattle Seahawks watched game tape on Tavon Austin, the more they realized the West Virginia receiver would not last long in the 2013 NFL draft.

Back in mid-March, the Seahawks could not know Austin would land with the NFC West-rival St. Louis Rams. They had recently traded the 25th overall choice to Minnesota to acquire another multidimensional wideout, Percy Harvin.

John Schneider, the Seahawks' general manager, felt relief Thursday when the Rams traded up eight spots in the first round to make Austin the first skill-position player selected.

It's not that Schneider was happy to see such an elite talent land in St. Louis. Quite the opposite. Even the Seahawks' suffocating secondary could have its troubles against a receiver as gifted as Austin. It's just that the way the first round played out affirmed the Seahawks' decision to acquire Harvin. They could not have secured another wideout with as much playmaking potential had they held onto the 25th overall pick.

Austin wasn't going to be there for them.

Once the Rams moved up from 16th to eighth for Austin, no NFL teams selected a wideout until the Houston Texans drafted Clemson's DeAndre Hopkins at No. 27. Cordarrelle Patterson went to the Minnesota Vikings two picks later.

"Quite honestly, it made me feel at peace just because of where we were with the Percy deal when it started," Schneider said following the third round Friday night.

Both Hopkins and Patterson are obviously talented, but if they had struck evaluators as fitting into the Austin/Harvin mold, teams would have been tripping over one another in a rush to draft them earlier.

Schneider's thinking came into clearer focus in the weeks since Seattle made the move for Harvin before free agency opened March 12.

"I really wasn't quite sure, didn't feel really strongly about the difference makers at the receiver position at that level of the first round [in the 25th-pick range]," Schneider reflected. "And then the closer we got to the draft, the tape on Austin, it just kind of became obvious that he was going to be an extremely high pick."

That commentary should please Rams fans and Seahawks fans alike. Each team's leadership thought Austin was special. The Seahawks knew they had to deal for Harvin if they hoped to land a similar player. Not that Austin and Harvin are interchangeable. While both threaten the end zone as receivers, runners and returners, Harvin has a much sturdier build. He's part running back and part receiver in a much fuller sense. But touchdowns are touchdowns, and both teams expect their new wideouts to supply them multiple ways.

"We really do think Percy is our No. 1 pick," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "He is part of this class."

Acquiring Harvin and addressing other areas of the roster during free agency left Seattle without significant needs entering this draft. That allowed the Seahawks, already loaded in the backfield with Marshawn Lynch and Robert Turbin, to indulge in Texas A&M running back Christine Michael.

This was a luxury pick and arguably a nonsensical one. It's also the sort of move smart organizations make. Seattle didn't have a need at quarterback when the team used a third-round draft choice for Russell Wilson last season. That move worked out pretty well.

The Seahawks could realistically be in the market for a new back two years down the line if Lynch's bruising style shortens his career. Having Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter on the roster didn't stop the San Francisco 49ers from using a second-round choice for LaMichael James last year. The 49ers took some heat when their 2012 draft class failed to produce much, but such is life for contending teams.

"We'll let these guys go at it, make sure everybody is aware of the competitive opportunity and hopefully that continues to make them elevate," Carroll said. "Sometimes there is a subtle way they help us by making other guys play well."

Not that Seattle was without needs entirely.

"Defensive tackle was definitely a need for us -- adding depth to the position," Schneider said. "That was the one spot that quite honestly, when you're putting it together, you are nervous you are maybe pushing players because of the need."

Seattle used its third-round choice (87th overall) for Penn State defensive tackle Jordan Hill. He'll probably contribute more as a pass-rusher than a run stuffer, differentiating him clearly from Alan Branch, who left in free agency. The Seahawks felt the talent at defensive tackle was about to drop off quickly as the third round gave way to the fourth. That gave them additional incentive to grab Hill.

The Seahawks hold 10 picks in the fourth through seventh rounds. Schneider and Carroll previously found K.J. Wright, Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor in that range. Others such as Turbin, Walter Thurmond, Jeremy Lane, Anthony McCoy, J.R. Sweezy and Malcolm Smith came to Seattle in those rounds.

There might not be a Tavon Austin or Percy Harvin out there, but as the Seahawks and Rams discovered, that was the case eight picks into the draft.
The Seattle Seahawks announced Dexter Davis' release from the team Tuesday. This was not big news. Davis was a seventh-round choice in 2010. Injuries had diminished his effectiveness. The team had released and re-signed Davis previously.


In the bigger picture, Davis' release provided an opportunity to revisit that 2010 draft. Three Seattle choices from that year have earned Pro Bowl honors, most in the league and one more than the division-rival San Francisco 49ers. Both teams had two first-round picks that year.

Pro Bowl selections can be a bit arbitrary as the league scrambles to fill holes in its all-star rosters. They're not a definitive measure of draft-class success. Having three draft choices achieve that status within three seasons is a good thing, however.

Sixteen teams drafted in 2010 at least one player who has subsequently achieved Pro Bowl status. The other 16 teams combined to draft zero from their 126 combined selections.

Russell Okung, Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor earned Pro Bowl honors for Seattle. Mike Iupati and NaVorro Bowman did so for the 49ers. Daryl Washington did so for the Arizona Cardinals. Bowman and Washington have already signed contract extensions. The others are candidates for extensions in the not-too-distant future.

Pete Carroll, Jim Harbaugh Ric Tapia/Icon SMIPete Carroll's Seahawks and Jim Harbaugh's 49ers have continued their rivalry into the offseason.
The San Francisco 49ers' and Seattle Seahawks' 2012 battle for NFC West supremacy has turned into a perceived battle this offseason.

"It just feels like the Seahawks make a move, then the Niners make a move," former NFL quarterback Damon Huard said Wednesday during our conversation on 710ESPN Seattle. "The Seahawks sign Percy Harvin, then the Niners go get Anquan Boldin. The Niners just signed Nnamdi Asomugha, they signed Colt McCoy, and now it's the Seahawks' turn to sign a quarterback. It really feels like this competition that was so fun to watch last fall has carried over into the offseason between the Niners and the Seahawks."

That's what it feels like from this angle, too. So, when ESPN's Bill Polian listed 49ers general manager Trent Baalke among his top six executives Insider without a mention for Seattle counterpart John Schneider, I knew some Seahawks fans would take offense.

"Schneider should be on there," SamW9801 wrote in commenting on the Polian piece.

I'm going to ratchet up the discussion with an assist from Tony Villiotti of draftmetrics.com. Tony identified ranges of picks by how frequently teams have found five-year starters within those ranges.

Using those general ranges, displayed at right, I've put together a chart at the bottom of this item comparing the 49ers' and Seahawks' draft choices since 2010.

Baalke took over the 49ers' draft room roughly a month before the 2010 draft. Schneider became the Seahawks' GM that offseason. The 49ers then underwent a coaching change after the 2010 season, at which point Baalke assumed the GM title officially. We might cut Baalke some slack for selecting Taylor Mays, a player then-coach Mike Singletary valued. There were surely other times when both GMs followed their coaches' input, for better or worse.

Seattle has drafted 28 players over this period, three more than San Francisco has drafted. The Seahawks had more to work with from a qualitative point as well. Their median choice was No. 130 overall, compared to No. 165 for the 49ers.

It's pretty clear both teams know what they are doing in the draft.

Aldon Smith, Anthony Davis, Mike Iupati and NaVorro Bowman have earned Pro Bowl and/or All-Pro honors for the 49ers. Russell Okung, Earl Thomas, Russell Wilson, Kam Chancellor and Richard Sherman have done so for the Seahawks.

Both teams have found franchise quarterbacks after the first round. Colin Kaepernick was chosen 36th overall in 2011. Wilson went to Seattle at No. 75 last year.

Neither team has missed in that first category, which includes players taken among the top 13 overall picks. Smith and Okung are elite players at premium positions.

Both teams have unanswered questions in that 14-40 range. The 49ers are waiting on A.J. Jenkins to produce. The Seahawks haven't gotten much from James Carpenter. But in Iupati and Thomas, the 49ers and Seahawks found players among the very best at their positions. Kaepernick's selection puts this group over the top for San Francisco. Seattle got eight sacks from Bruce Irvin as a rookie in 2012, so the Seahawks aren't far behind. It's just impossible to overlook the value a franchise quarterback provides.

Seattle has the edge in the 41-66 range. Mays is long gone from the 49ers. That leaves LaMichael James for the 49ers against Bobby Wagner and Golden Tate for Seattle. Wagner was an instant starter at middle linebacker and a three-down player who commanded consideration for defensive rookie of the year. Tate blossomed with Wilson at quarterback.

The Seahawks also have an edge in that 67-86 range, having selected Wilson.

Seattle holds a 7-3 lead in number of picks used between the 87th and 149th choices, a range producing five-year starters 16 percent of the time, according to Villiotti.

Both teams used picks in that range for players whose injury situations dragged down their draft status: Joe Looney in San Francisco, Walter Thurmond in Seattle. Both teams found starting linebackers in this range: Bowman to the 49ers, K.J. Wright to the Seahawks. Both teams found developmental running backs in that range: Kendall Hunter to the 49ers, Robert Turbin to the Seahawks. Both teams found Pro Bowl players: Bowman in San Francisco, Chancellor in Seattle.

Sherman, arguably the NFL's best cornerback, gives Seattle an edge in the 150 through 189 range of picks. Both teams found backup tight ends there. Anthony Dixon (49ers) and Jeremy Lane (Seahawks) have the potential to expand their roles.

The 49ers found starting fullback Bruce Miller in the final pick range, which runs from 190 to the end of the draft. Seattle found a projected starting guard there in J.R. Sweezy. Malcolm Smith is a candidate to start at linebacker for Seattle. Miller and Sweezy both played defense in college. Miller has already successfully transitioned to offense. Seattle thinks Sweezy will do the same.

Summing it up: Both teams can feel good about their draft performance over the past three seasons. I doubt either team would trade its picks for the other team's picks. That makes sense. Teams draft the players they like best. The 49ers have six projected 2013 starters to show for their choices. The number is eight for the Seahawks, not counting Irvin or Tate. Seattle has had more choices and higher quality choices, and more openings in the lineup to accommodate those players. I think that shows in the results.

Weatherspoon-KaepernickUSA TODAY SportsAtlanta and San Francisco will square off Sunday with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line.
Coach Mike Smith, quarterback Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons finally have that elusive playoff victory. One more home victory stands between them and the Super Bowl after Atlanta outlasted Seattle in the divisional round.

The San Francisco 49ers, overtime losers in the NFC Championship Game a year ago, are back on the verge of their first Super Bowl since the 1994 season. That 49ers team won it all with one of the all-time great ex-Falcons, Deion Sanders, playing cornerback for them.

Which team will represent the NFC in the Super Bowl this year? NFC West blogger Mike Sando and NFC South blogger Pat Yasinskas talked through the possibilities.

Sando: Pat, you just finished watching Russell Wilson and Matt Ryan put on a show in the divisional round. If anyone upstaged them in these playoffs, it was the 49ers' Colin Kaepernick with his 181-yard rushing performance against Green Bay. Kaepernick had 263 yards passing, two passing touchdowns and two rushing touchdowns. Kaepernick now owns victories over Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers in his first eight starts. It's looking like he's going to be the key variable in this game against the Falcons.

Yasinskas: No doubt, Mike. I'm still trying to process what Kaepernick did against Green Bay and I'm sure the Falcons are looking hard at that. They have to be worried, especially after what they put on tape against Seattle. They played a great first half, but Russell Wilson exploited them in the second half. They struggled with Cam Newton and the read option in the regular season. The Falcons allowed quarterbacks to run for a league-high 8.9 yards per attempt (excluding kneeldowns) this season. Kaepernick can do the read option, but the 49ers also can turn to Frank Gore in the traditional running game and they can throw the ball. That's a scary combination, and coordinator Mike Nolan is going to have to come up with an innovative game plan against the team he once coached.

Sando: Some NFL coaching people I've spoken with thought the Packers had a horrible plan. Of course, that's easy to say after a team gives up 181 yards rushing to a quarterback. But from this view, it appeared as though the Packers played too much man coverage, turning their backs to Kaepernick and giving him too many free running lanes. Even before Kaepernick became the starter, San Francisco was known around the league for having a higher volume of running plays in its arsenal than other teams possess. Kaepernick opens up another dimension. What was the key to Cam Newton's running success against Atlanta this season?

[+] EnlargeMichael Turner
Mike Ehrmann/Getty ImagesMichael Turner averaged 7.0 yards per carry in Sunday's win over Seattle.
Yasinskas: Newton and the Panthers used the read option pretty much to perfection against Atlanta. Carolina got the defensive ends and linebackers to commit and Newton made the right calls. He's a unique talent and so is Kaepernick. But I think San Francisco could present even more of a challenge due to Gore. Atlanta's defense had issues with the read option. But the Falcons weren't all that great against any sort of running game. The Falcons use a lot of nickel packages and that may put them at a disadvantage against the run. They might have to use a little more of their 4-3 base defense and keep middle linebacker Akeem Dent on the field more.

Sando: The 49ers use heavier personnel on offense more than just about any team. That will force the Falcons to play their base defense on early downs. I dug up a couple numbers from ESPN game charting to illustrate the point. The Falcons' opponents played nickel or dime defense on 396 first- or second-down plays this season. The figure was 128 plays against the 49ers' offense this season. That said, Kaepernick carried 11 times for 107 yards and his 20-yard touchdown against the Packers' nickel/dime defenses. He carried three times for 76 yards against the Packers' base 3-4 personnel. That included his 56-yard run. The 49ers can present matchup problems from their two-tight end offense because Vernon Davis (4.38 40-yard dash) and Delanie Walker (4.49) run well. Davis' 44-yard reception against the Packers was a great sign for San Francisco.

Yasinskas: Yes, I think the San Francisco offense is going to present all sorts of problems for the Atlanta defense. But I think the flip side is that Atlanta's offense is going to present matchup problems, even for a very good defense. Roddy White and Julio Jones command a lot of attention. But no defense can overlook tight end Tony Gonzalez and slot receiver Harry Douglas. Both of them are dependable and dangerous, as shown on Atlanta's game-winning drive against Seattle. Those are four very solid weapons. And let's not forget the fact that Atlanta's run game came to life against the Seahawks. If Michael Turner can show up again, San Francisco's defense is going to have its hands full.

Sando: The 49ers have sometimes let Patrick Willis match up with opposing tight ends. Willis has covered pretty well much of the time, in my view. The 49ers gave up a league-low 613 yards to tight ends, but they ranked only 21st in passer rating allowed (98.5) when opponents targeted the position. San Francisco allowed eight touchdown passes to tight ends. Only five teams allowed more. Kyle Rudolph had two scoring catches against San Francisco. Jermichael Finley, David Thomas, Brandon Pettigrew, Anthony McCoy, Anthony Fasano and Aaron Hernandez also caught touchdowns against the 49ers this season. The key for San Francisco will be pressuring Ryan without blitzing. That appears possible now that defensive end Justin Smith is back and playing pretty well.

Yasinskas: Yes, San Francisco's pass rush will be a key to this game. Atlanta's offensive line, which was a problem spot last season, has enjoyed a resurgence this season with the arrival of offensive line coach Pat Hill. He's had the line playing well most of the season and the unit was particularly good against Seattle. Ryan wasn't sacked and was barely pressured. Hill's biggest accomplishment has been getting a solid season out of left tackle Sam Baker. Baker was a first-round draft pick in 2008. His first four seasons were filled with inconsistency and injuries, but Baker has stayed healthy this year and has played at a high level. The rest of Atlanta's offensive line doesn't have great individual talent. But Hill has this line blocking well for the passing game. The running game has been a different story. Turner had a big game against Seattle. But, during the regular season, he wasn't the same back he was in past years. I think part of it is because age is catching up to him, but part of it was because the run blocking wasn't great. Atlanta has made the transition toward being a pass-first team and the offensive line is much better at pass blocking than it is at run blocking. Still, coach Mike Smith believes it's important to have a running game and he's going to try to establish one with Turner and Jacquizz Rodgers against San Francisco.

[+] EnlargeJustin Smith, DuJuan Smith
Jose Luis Villegas/Sacramento Bee/MCTJustin Smith turned in a strong performance Sunday in his first game back from a torn triceps.
Sando: Seattle, despite leading the NFL in fewest points allowed, ranked 30th in yards per rush allowed since Week 7. The Seahawks resorted to risky tactics after losing their best pass-rusher, Chris Clemons, to injury in the wild-card round. Seattle simply couldn't get to Ryan without compromising its coverage. Ryan threw an early pick against DB pressure, but after that, he completed 7 of 8 passes for 111 yards and a score when the Seahawks rushed a member of their secondary, according to ESPN Stats & Information. San Francisco rushed a DB just twice against the Packers on Saturday night. Justin Smith's ability to play 91 percent of the snaps for the 49ers following a triceps injury was huge for San Francisco. The 49ers need him. Outside linebacker Aldon Smith has 19.5 sacks this season, but none since he had two against Miami in Week 14. The 49ers need the Smiths to pick up where they left off before Justin's injury. That is a key to this game.

Yasinskas: Yes, Atlanta's offensive line has to give Ryan time to throw the ball. A lot of Ryan's critics say he doesn't have a strong arm. But I think he has plenty of arm strength and he showed that with his long touchdown pass to White against Seattle. The key for Ryan in the deep game is for his offensive line to give him time. The Falcons like to use play-action and that will help. But I think it also helps the offensive line that this game is in the Georgia Dome, so false starts won't be a problem. You brought up a good point last week in showing that Ryan's statistics haven't been as good at home as on the road. That's true. But the Falcons need to capitalize Sunday on the home-field advantage. This is a team that's been around since 1966, but it's the first time a championship game will be played in Atlanta. After years of playing second fiddle to the Braves and college football, the Falcons have become the biggest thing in town. Fans finally are embracing this team and the noise in the Georgia Dome could be a big help for the Falcons.

Sando: The 49ers allowed 38 pass plays of 20 or more yards this season. That was tied for third fewest (Seattle allowed 40, sixth fewest). I kept waiting for Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor to deliver a game-changing hit. It never happened. The 49ers' Dashon Goldson and Donte Whitner are the big hitters for the 49ers. They need to be tone setters down the field. I'm really looking forward to seeing how the physical aspect of this game plays out. That's an area where the 49ers need to win. I tend to think they will as long as Justin Smith can give them 90 percent playing time once again. How do you see this one going?

Yasinskas: The 49ers probably are the more physical team and I was very impressed with how they played overall against Green Bay. But following a hunch and I'm taking the Falcons, 31-27. I think putting an end to the playoff drought will allow Atlanta to be loose and relaxed, especially in the case of Ryan. Playing at home also helps. Atlanta's defense needs to show up for 60 minutes this time. If it does, I think Atlanta has enough offensive firepower to score points even against a good defense and win this game. I see the Falcons going to the Super Bowl for only the second time in franchise history.

Sando: I'm not sure if I feel better or worse about the Falcons after watching that game against Seattle. The Seahawks had zero pass rush and I think that was the difference in the game, particularly at the very end. Looking ahead to Sunday, the Falcons have the more accomplished quarterback, but so did the Packers and Patriots and Saints. Kaepernick beat them all. I would give the Falcons the edge at receiver despite Michael Crabtree's development. Atlanta has the better kicker. I'd give the 49ers an edge on the offensive and defensive lines, at linebacker and in the secondary. We were talking about Tony Gonzales earlier. Great player, but would he even start for the 49ers? Not over Vernon Davis, crazy as that sounds. San Francisco is better at running back, too. Maybe the Falcons pull out another wild one at home. I just think the 49ers are better. I'll take them to win it, 30-17. If the Falcons win, they were better than I thought at every step this season.

LANDOVER, Md. -- Thoughts on the Seattle Seahawks' 24-14 victory over the Washington Redskins in a wild-card playoff game Sunday at FedEx Field:

What it means: The fifth-seeded Seahawks will face the Atlanta Falcons in a divisional-round game in the Georgia Dome on Sunday at 1 p.m. ET. This was their first road victory in a playoff game since the 1983 season. They will face a Falcons team that has not won a playoff game with Mike Smith as head coach. The Falcons rode Matt Ryan's stellar play and the NFL's easiest schedule to the top seed in the NFC. The Seahawks have now won a playoff game following two of Pete Carroll's first three seasons as head coach.

What I liked: The Seahawks stuck with their plan and kept plugging away even though they weren't getting points for long stretches. Marshawn Lynch atoned for his fumble near the Washington goal line by breaking a 27-yard touchdown run on third-and-5 to give Seattle its first lead of the game. Quarterback Russell Wilson was out front blocking on this play and others.

Seahawks free safety Earl Thomas showed outstanding range in sprinting over to pick off a deep pass from Robert Griffin III. That play showed the Redskins wouldn't be able to throw the ball down the field without incurring significant risk. Thomas had three picks during the regular season. That's a good number for a safety, but Thomas has the talent to produce more turnovers. This was a big one.

The Seahawks took advantage of matchup advantages at tight end. Zach Miller made a difficult catch early and his catch for a two-point conversion was key. Miller also had a 22-yard reception on his way to a four-catch, 48-yard game. Washington allowed 10 touchdown passes to tight ends during the regular season, third most in the NFL.

What I didn't like: Seattle's defense got steamrolled in the first quarter as the Redskins amassed a 129-9 yardage lead and 14-0 scoring lead. Alfred Morris ran without much resistance. Griffin threw two short scoring passes. Just like that, Seattle was behind by 14 points, its largest deficit of the season and largest since New England led the Seahawks by 13 points.

Tight end Anthony McCoy dropped a pass shortly before halftime, one reason Seattle settled for a field goal when a touchdown would have put the Seahawks into the lead. Lynch then lost a fumble on a run from the Washington 1-yard line on the first possession of the second half. Those miscues cost Seattle as many as 11 points, keeping the Redskins in the lead, 14-13, through three quarters.

The Seahawks kept racking up yards without getting enough points over the second and third quarters. Wilson took five sacks. He has now taken 11 sacks over his past two games after taking eight over his five previous games combined. Wilson also appeared to make a couple of questionable decisions, a rarity for him. He was fortunate Washington did not intercept him in the end zone during the first half.

My field position: Redskins owner Daniel Snyder is worth how much again? More than a billion, right? That kind of loot would buy a lot of sod. The playing surface at FedEx Field was a disgrace. It's tough to know whether it contributed to a couple of knee injuries suffered in this game, but why take the risk? The weather was beautiful for January, but the field looked as though it had weathered a tractor pull recently.

Injury update: The Seahawks lost defensive end Chris Clemons to a knee injury in the second half. Kicker Steven Hauschka returned after suffering an injured ankle. Punter Jon Ryan kicked off while Hauschka was out.

Lynch does it again: Lynch carried 19 times for 131 yards, his 11th game of the season with at least 100 yards rushing.

Second-guessing Shanahan: The Redskins left Griffin in the game even though it was clear early that a knee injury was hurting him. The move backfired. Griffin struggled as the game progressed. He then injured the knee even worse in the fourth quarter. Washington declared him out. The Redskins had won a game with Kirk Cousins in the lineup this season. They couldn't have been worse on offense with Cousins in the game once it became clear Griffin couldn't function.

What's next: The Seahawks face NFC South champions Falcons at the Georgia Dome.
LANDOVER, Md. -- A few thoughts from the FedEx Field press box as the Seattle Seahawks and Washington Redskins warm up on the field about 30 yards away:
  • Peter Morelli is the referee. The Redskins have to hope officials watch closely for the aggressive tactics Seattle's cornerbacks use in coverage. Morelli's crew called only two of 62 penalties for illegal contact in the NFL this season. His crew was right at the NFL average with 17 calls for defensive pass interference. His crew was ranked tied for second with 12 penalties for defensive holding. Here's the deal, though: Morelli's crew is not working this game. It's an all-star crew. Referees are directly responsible for calling roughing the passer. Morelli called four such penalties this season, right at the NFL average.
  • The word on Morelli. Football Zebras is increasingly becoming a resource for officiating analysis. Its thoughts on Morelli: "Pete Morelli always gives a yeoman-like performance; he’s not going to win you over with style points, but he runs a tight ship." Note that the NFL removed head linesman Dana McKenzie from this game to avoid potential conflict with Redskins cornerback DeAngelo Hall stemming from a previous incident.
  • White on white. The Seahawks are wearing their white pants and white jerseys for this game.
  • Watch for tight ends. The Redskins have allowed 10 touchdowns to opposing tight ends this season. Only Houston (11) and Denver (11) have allowed more. The Seahawks' Zach Miller and Anthony McCoy could be players to watch. Each had three touchdown receptions during the regular season. Seattle's tight ends had zero touchdowns during the 2011 season.
  • Putting on the clamps. Seattle has allowed 10 touchdown passes to opposing wide receivers. That ranks fifth in the league and is in line with some of the Seahawks' division rivals. The top five in fewest scoring passes allowed to wideouts: Atlanta Falcons 7, San Francisco 49ers 9, Cincinnati Bengals 10, Seahawks 10, St. Louis Rams 10. Arizona ranked 15th with 14 allowed.
  • Guard in cross hairs.. The Seahawks think rookie right guard J.R. Sweezy has Pro Bowl potential. They're also taking a risk playing such an inexperienced player against a team known for unleashing confusing blitzes. Sweezy struggled against Arizona in the opener and again, at times, against St. Louis in Week 17. He did not play much in between. I'll be watching to see how well he handles protections.

The teams will be announcing inactive players soon. I'm not expecting big surprises. Of course, If I were expecting big surprises, they wouldn't be surprises.
Our weekly look at playing-time trends in the NFC West, with an eye toward the fantasy leagues you routinely dominate:
  • Arizona Cardinals: Larry Fitzgerald continues to play all or nearly all the offensive snaps for Arizona. His stats should only benefit with John Skelton's return to the lineup. He was a non-factor with Ryan Lindley playing. It's still tough to bank on much, however. Skelton completed 2 of 7 passes for 26 yards and an interception when targeting Fitzgerald in the regular-season opener. The two connected nine times for 149 yards and six first downs against Seattle in Week 17 last season, however. Rookie receiver Michael Floyd played a career-high 94.4 percent of the snaps last week as Arizona played without injured starter Andre Roberts. Roberts is listed as questionable this week. Running back LaRod Stephens-Howling played more than 75 percent of the snaps three times in a four-week period ending in Week 9. He has played less than 20 percent of the snaps over the past two weeks. Beanie Wells' return accounts for much of the difference. Wells has played about 40 percent of the snaps since returning.
  • St. Louis Rams: Brandon Gibson and Chris Givens each played 90.7 percent of the snaps against San Francisco as the Rams played without the injured Danny Amendola. It's unclear whether or how much Amendola might play against Buffalo. It's also unclear how much playing time Givens has earned regardless. Givens ranks fifth among NFL players in receptions (16) and receiving yards (207) over the past two weeks, all with Amendola either out of the lineup or playing sparingly. Sam Bradford has completed 16 of 20 passes to Givens over that span. He has targeted Givens on a wider range of throws after previously looking for Givens mostly on deep ones. Running back Steven Jackson has played better than 70 percent of the snaps in three of the Rams' last four games. He had played that much only twice previously.
  • San Francisco 49ers: Injuries are affecting the 49ers to a degree they have not in the recent past. Receiver Mario Manningham is not expected to play against Miami. Receiver Kyle Williams is out for the season. Running back Kendall Hunter is out for the season. Receiver A.J. Jenkins and running back LaMichael James, both rookies, could now begin factoring in meaningful ways. Frank Gore has played better than 80 percent of the snaps in three of the 49ers' past four games after playing less than 70 percent for the season previously. Fullback Bruce Miller's snaps are up. Randy Moss' snaps have been up. Running back Brandon Jacobs played a season-high 10.4 percent against the Rams. James' expected activation in the near future threatens Jacobs' playing time.
  • Seattle Seahawks: Sidney Rice, Golden Tate and Zach Miller all played about 95 percent of the snaps at Chicago last week. Tate did not play against Arizona in Week 1. He and Rice now lead the NFC West with seven touchdown receptions apiece. Braylon Edwards, released during the week, had been playing between about 15 percent and 30 percent of the snaps over the previous three weeks. Doug Baldwin's improved health contributed to Edwards' release. Baldwin played 50 percent of the snaps at Chicago, his highest total since the opener. Anthony McCoy's snaps fell some against the Bears, but he has earned a role in the offense. Fullback Michael Robinson played season-low snaps against Chicago (17.6 percent), Miami (20.0 percent) and Arizona the first time (21 percent). He is at 35 percent in other games

That is all for now. I'll be heading over to CenturyLink Field in a bit.

Note: ESPN Stats & Information contributed to this item.
Our weekly look at playing-time trends in the NFC West, with an eye toward the fantasy leagues you routinely dominate:

CHICAGO -- The Arizona Cardinals were expected to welcome back veteran tight end Todd Heap last week following a prolonged injury absence.

Instead, the Cardinals named Heap inactive again. Second-year tight end Rob Housler wound up playing a career-high 83.8 percent of the team's offensive snaps against St. Louis. It was the first time Housler had played as many snaps as wideout Andre Roberts.

Heap's situation has been one of the strangest I can recall for a player in the NFC West. There is no reason for Arizona to reverse course. Housler caught eight passes for 82 yards against the Rams. Heap is 32 years old and has eight receptions all season.
  • Arizona Cardinals: Rookie receiver Michael Floyd, relegated to the bench in Week 11 after struggling, played a career-high 67.5 percent of the offensive snaps against the Rams. Floyd's playing time spiked when the team named Early Doucet inactive with injured ribs. Doucet's status is in question this week as well.
  • St. Louis Rams: Rookie receiver Chris Givens played a career-high 85.2 percent of the offensive snaps in Week 12. He responded with the first 100-yard game of his career. Givens is emerging as more than a deep threat, too. He could see similar snap counts against the 49ers, particularly if Danny Amendola misses the game or is limited. Amendola, battling a foot injury, was limited to 14 percent of the snaps against Arizona. He was listed as doubtful on the injury report this week.
  • San Francisco 49ers: Fullback Bruce Miller has gone from playing about one-third of the snaps over the first seven games to one-half of them in subsequent games. He played very well against New Orleans while logging a season-high 60.3 percent of the snaps. He should continue to get significant reps, particularly with the team losing receiver Kyle Williams to a season-ending injury. Randy Moss also could play more. He was above 40 percent of snaps against the Saints, only the second time this season he has played that much. Frank Gore has set season-highs for snap percentages twice in the past three weeks. Kendall Hunter's season-ending injury makes Gore even more important to the 49ers. Brandon Jacobs or LaMichael James could factor now.
  • Seattle Seahawks: Backup tight end Anthony McCoy has played better than half the offensive snaps in each of the Seahawks' last two games. He had done so only once previously this season, at St. Louis in Week 4. Third receiver Doug Baldwin and fullback Michael Robinson played fewer snaps against the Dolphins in Week 12 than they had over the previous couple weeks. Staying healthy enough to factor has been the biggest challenge for Baldwin. He should become a reliable target for Russell Wilson if the Seahawks shift to their three-receiver offense a little more frequently. Sidney Rice and Golden Tate are solidly entrenched as the top two, however.

All for now. I'll be heading over to Soldier Field shortly for the Seahawks' game against the Chicago Bears.

Wrap-up: Rams 19, Seahawks 13

September, 30, 2012
9/30/12
4:04
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Thoughts on the Week 4 game between the Seattle Seahawks and St. Louis Rams at the Edward Jones Dome:

What it means: The Rams showed they won't be an easy out for NFC West opponents, particularly in the Edward Jones Dome. They showed that coach Jeff Fisher and staff can give the team an edge. They also moved into a tie with Seattle at 2-2 in the NFC West. This game showed the Seahawks' vulnerability pending improvement in the passing game. They're a defensive team and a rushing team, but not much of a threat in the passing game.

What I liked: Both teams scored on their opening drives. The Seahawks came out throwing and put Russell Wilson's talents to use during an 80-yard drive to a touchdown. The Rams answered on their first possession with Greg Zuerlein's 58-yard field goal. Neither offense has functioned particularly well of late, so getting points early was a bonus.

The Rams maximized several scoring opportunities to gain an edge against a generally stronger opponent. They won the tactical battles, it seemed. They fooled Seattle with a touchdown pass to Danny Amendola on a fake field goal. When Seattle threw incomplete and took a sack with 49 seconds left in the first half, the Rams leveraged the gift into a 48-yard field goal. And when Seattle failed to recover an onside kick to open the second half, St. Louis turned the favorable field position into Zuerlein's 60-yard field goal.

Seattle's ground game and the Rams' third-down offense were highlights at times.

Marshawn Lynch topped 100 yards rushing. He and Robert Turbin overpowered the Rams' defense. Turbin ran over safety Quintin Mikell and through linebacker James Laurinaitis on one memorable play. Lynch's 18-yard scoring run over the left side was another highlight. Lynch broke tackles regularly.

Rams quarterback Sam Bradford sometimes held the ball too long, but the Rams converted five of their first 12 chances on third down. Their ground game also improved late as Steven Jackson found some creases even though Seattle's defensive front continued to dominate at the line of scrimmage.

Seattle's defense did not allow a touchdown (its special teams did).

What I didn't like: Both teams suffered interceptions following poor plays or miscommunications involving receivers. The Rams squandered a likely scoring drive when Bradford threw for Brandon Gibson along the sideline, only to have Gibson continue his route down the field. Richard Sherman made the easy pick for Seattle. For the Seahawks, receiver Doug Baldwin couldn't handle a short pass thrown behind him, enabling the Rams' Trumaine Johnson to intercept it.

Seattle's final shot at victory ended when tight end Anthony McCoy tripped, allowing Bradley Fletcher to pick off Wilson's pass.

Any team running the ball as well as Seattle was should have found greater opportunities in the passing game. Seahawks coach Pete Carroll has said he's the reason for the team's conservative offensive approach, and that the philosophy will change once Wilson gains experience.

What's next: The Rams are home against Arizona on Thursday night. The Seahawks visit Carolina on Sunday for their second consecutive game kicking off at 10 a.m. PT.

Winslow to Pats as West tight ends score

September, 18, 2012
9/18/12
12:07
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News that Kellen Winslow has a deal with New England means the veteran tight end could visit Seattle, the team that released him last month, for a Week 6 game.

The Seahawks arguably missed Winslow in their opening-week defeat at Arizona. The decision to release him was more of a longer-term move. But with tight end Anthony McCoy catching a 22-yard touchdown pass for the Seahawks against Dallas in Week 2, perhaps Seattle is coming out OK.

The Seahawks and St. Louis Rams were the only NFL teams to finish the 2011 regular season without a touchdown reception from a tight end. Both had tight ends score touchdowns in Week 2.

Matthew Mulligan caught the go-ahead touchdown pass from Sam Bradford during the fourth quarter of the Rams' 31-28 victory over Washington. McCoy's scoring catch from Russell Wilson gave Seattle a 20-7 lead in the third quarter.

San Francisco's Vernon Davis has three touchdown receptions thus far, giving NFC West tight ends five scoring receptions through two weeks.

Winslow and T.O.: Fun while they lasted

September, 1, 2012
9/01/12
6:22
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The Seattle Seahawks generated headlines this offseason by signing Kellen Winslow and Terrell Owens.

It's looking like neither will factor for the team in 2012.

The team released Owens last week and Winslow on Saturday. The latter move was more surprising, in my view, given the clear vision Seattle seemed to have for Winslow as a receiving tight end.

There were no immediate indications Seattle planned to re-sign Winslow after Week 1. Doing so would spare the Seahawks from guaranteeing his 2012 salary and parting with a conditional draft choice promised to Tampa Bay as part of the deal to acquire Winslow.

The knee issues Winslow brought with him from the Bucs likely worked against him as Seattle determined whether to commit roughly $3 million in salary for a player unable to practice regularly during the season. The team is already paying $6 million in salary for tight end Zach Miller.

Without Winslow, however, the Seahawks were left with only Miller and Anthony McCoy at the position. I would expect them to sign another tight end.

Thoughts as Seahawks cut Owens, Lutui

August, 26, 2012
8/26/12
5:17
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Initial thoughts on the Seattle Seahawks' moves as the mandatory reduction to 75-man rosters approaches Monday:
  • Deuce Lutui appeared likely to earn a roster spot, but things changed when rookie seventh-round pick J.R. Sweezy made a surprisingly quick conversion from college defensive lineman to NFL guard. Sweezy suddenly looks like a strong candidate to supplant incumbent John Moffitt as the starting right guard. That made Lutui expendable. Also, Lutui wasn't ideally suited for the Seahawks' zone blocking scheme. He probably would have helped most in pass protection. I think Lutui could help someone. Seems like St. Louis could stand to check him out, at least.
  • Alex Barron's release makes available a veteran tackle with talent and a history of inconsistent play. I thought Barron looked good early in camp. Arizona has obvious needs at tackle. Barron is probably more talented than other players available at this time. We'll have to see if that changes as teams reduce their rosters. Barron can play both tackle spots. He's spent the past month working against Seattle's pass-rushers in practice. He has fared pretty well at times, too. Arizona faces those same pass-rushers in Week 1.
  • Terrell Owens' name was on the cut list, as expected. Braylon Edwards' emergence played a role in Owens' departure.
  • Cornerback Roy Lewis played nearly a quarter of the Seahawks' defensive snaps last season. The team waived him with an injury designation. Lewis could land on injured reserve if he clears waivers. Or, the team could reach an injury settlement with him, allowing Lewis to sign with Seattle or another team once he's healthy.
  • Anthony McCoy seemed to help his cause at tight end against Kansas City on Friday night. He looks like the favorite to become the third tight end now that the team waived/injured Cameron Morrah.
  • Pep Levingston and Jameson Konz also received the waived/injured designation. Levingston impressed during pass-rush drills at times, but Clinton McDonald and others have offered more.
  • I'll be curious to see whether receiver Phil Bates lands on the practice squad. Also waived: tackle Edawn Coughman, cornerback Donny Lisowski, cornerback Ron Parker and running back Tyrell Sutton.
  • Seattle now has 77 players on its roster, by my count. The team must reduce to 75 by Monday at 4 p.m. ET. Placing offensive lineman James Carpenter on the reserve/physically unable to perform list appears likely.

Back to watching the San Francisco 49ers against the Denver Broncos. More in a bit.
Looking back on three things discussed here before the Seattle Seahawks' preseason game Friday night at Kansas City (they led 44-7 in the fourth quarter when I filed this):

1. Russell Wilson's efficiency. The rookie quarterback led Seattle to three field goals and three touchdowns on his first six possessions. Wilson played another series with the backups. That one included a 40-yard strike to Terrell Owens before the drive ended with a missed 51-yard field goal. Wilson completed 13 of 19 passes for 185 yards and two touchdowns. He ran twice for 58 yards, including once for a 31-yard gain on third-and-7.

This had to be enough for Wilson to emerge as the favorite to start on a night when Matt Flynn sat out to rest a sore throwing elbow. If not, what more did Wilson need to do? Update: After the game, coach Pete Carroll indicated he would not name a starting quarterback at this time.

Wilson got receiver Sidney Rice involved early. He ran the two-minute offense effectively before halftime. Wilson connected on downfield throws with Owens, Braylon Edwards, Kellen Winslow, Anthony McCoy and Golden Tate. Winslow and Charly Martin caught scoring passes. Wilson completed passes covering 40, 32, 25 and 21 yards.

Wilson did miss McCoy over the middle on a second-and-15 play, but otherwise, he was mostly on the mark. Seattle had to like what it saw from Wilson and two other rookies, right guard J.R. Sweezy and running back Robert Turbin. Sweezy's aggressive run blocking stood out. Turbin ran with power and also showed surprising speed in pulling away from Kansas City linebackers to break a 25-yard scoring run. Turbin carried 14 times for 93 yards.

With Flynn out, Tarvaris Jackson made his 2012 exhibition debut, taking over late in the third quarter.

2. WRs revisited. Edwards looked good again. Owens struggled until making an improbable overhead catch while putting on the brakes along the sideline. Owens resembled a man slipping on a banana peel. The play required skill and concentration. Teammates cheered loudly along the sideline after the catch.

Earlier, Owens could not make a catch when defended well along the right sideline. He missed another chance on a third-down pass thrown slightly behind him, but a penalty for roughing the passer kept the drive going for Seattle.

Golden Tate held onto a contested ball for a 14-yard gain, and his 92-yard punt return for a touchdown was most impressive.

3. Pass-rushers. Rookie Greg Scruggs collected a sack early. Seattle held Matt Cassel to 4.9 yards per pass attempt, pressuring him occasionally without collecting sacks.

The Chiefs converted five times on third down during a 17-play, 80-yard touchdown drive against Seattle's starting defense. Mike Morgan and Cordarro Law did collect sacks for Seattle later in the game.
SEATTLE -- The chart shows where the Philadelphia Eagles and Seattle Seahawks rank in dropped passes heading into their game Thursday night, courtesy of ESPN Stats & Information.

DeSean Jackson leads the Eagles with five, one more than teammate LeSean McCoy. Tight end Anthony McCoy leads the Seahawks with four.

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